July 14, 2008

What will Brentwwod's Town Center finally look like?

Brentwood 'Town Center' plan depends on who's defining it

In every (Brentwood) 2000 or 2020 plan, the major concern was "I wish we had a town center," not "I wish we had another commercial-looking Maryland Farms office park that we could call a 'town center.' " We want it to have a character, a charm about it, be pedestrian-friendly and have a "pattern" to it. So, we went to the expense and trouble to say we have a "pattern book." We established a different zoning classification to distinguish commercial buildings in this part of "town" from any other part of town.
Last week's debate centered around the architectural style of a building that would fit in other C-zoning areas without much debate. Think about that for a moment. Why separate the C-4 "Town Center" area building criteria from any other C-zone if the buildings do not have to have a different character?
If the bank building in question is no different in design from any other C-zone, why have we established the C-4 to begin with? I thought we had a "Town Center" pattern book to avoid the contemporary nature of commercial architecture you could find elsewhere. I thought the whole idea was to have a set-aside area that was unique in character. The thought process that we are to avoid a monolithic look is valid but needs to be in context with the purpose. For example, the other building proposed is not monolithic in materials or aesthetic style but at the same time has an identity of character throughout.
There is nothing unusual about communities or developments having a pattern book, a set of design standards, if you will. There is nothing unusual about having an architectural review board as oversight. Why do those communities do that? It sure would be easier not to care. What's the point?
We ask Walgreens to put window panes in their windows for a less commercial look and put up a rock wall for that "rural" hometown feel. Why? We talked the developers into saving the old Ward home place because it was the character of Brentwood we like and want to keep even though the developer didn't want to at all. Why?
We save every rock wall possible. Brentwood loves the "farm" or "estate" look and feel. It's character and charm and small-town America — not commercial-town America. I thought we wanted a Town Center with character and charm.
If unique architectural freedom is the goal for the "Town Center," why have a pattern book? Is the goal of the pattern book to establish a commercial section that in style is not different from other commercial zoning? If the goal of Town Center is to have buildings with "an edge" and architectural freedom, then why have a "pattern book"?
The goal is not to have a Town Center defined by a particular building but an overall "pattern" of buildings that together define a "Town Center." Every developer will come to us with a plan they have a vested interest in. We understand that, but our vested interest is only what is best for our city. They always say, "If you don't approve this, the whole project falls apart." If an $8 million project is so fragile that making a few changes in one building scraps the whole project, then something else is wrong.
This last discussion was about what depicts the nature of a "Town Center" that was put in place to 1) revitalize and rebuild an area run down; 2) provide as best we can a "Town Center," a Town Center patterned for a cultural feel that for 40 years of planning residents want to see; and 3) a pedestrian-friendly charm and small, hometown character.
In my mind it wasn't supposed to be the "city town center" or "commercial-looking town center," or "The Pinnacle Bank Town Center," but "village-looking town center." Our village. Our town we never had.

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